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Americans everywhere are concerned about the coronavirus and COVID-19, the respiratory disease it causes.
But COVID-19 has demonstrated that it’s particularly serious for older adults whose immune systems naturally weaken as they age — and especially for those with chronic medical conditions, according to Dr. Samir K. Sinha, a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council.
In fact, 8 out of 10 deaths reported in the U.S. related to COVID-19 have been in adults 65 years old and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If your parents fall in one of the vulnerable categories, you’re probably wondering how to help them. Here are four things you can do right now.
1. Grocery shop
You’re likely well aware of the shopping frenzy surrounding coronavirus. Personal care and household items have disappeared from store shelves. Lines are out the door. Online prices have skyrocketed.
Many Americans are hunkered down at home self-quarantining or under shelter-in-place orders, and your parents may be leery of venturing out to a grocery store for fear of being exposed.
That’s understandable, according to Maria Brown, an assistant research professor at Falk College and member of Syracuse University’s Aging Studies Institute.
“Because of their vulnerability and the longevity of the coronavirus, older adults should be avoiding public spaces where other people can be coughing or sneezing near them, or depositing the virus on objects or surfaces that they end up touching,” Brown said in an email.
Let your parents stay home and consider going to the store for them and dropping off groceries on their doorstep. Or, help them place online orders that can be delivered to their house.
2. Call or video chat regularly
The CDC says the virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person contact, particularly between people who are within about 6 feet of each other. Because of that, you’ve likely already been separating yourself from your family members, including your parents.
To avoid possibly exposing your mom and dad, turn to technology instead. Skype, FaceTime or call. Remain in communication to keep their spirits up and check on how they’re feeling.
“Staying in touch also helps us to verify their mental and physical health as these days of social distancing wear on,” Brown said.
Try setting a schedule with specific times you’ll call so they have something to look forward to throughout the day.
3. Warn about scams
Scammers are preying on Americans during this medical and financial crisis. Talk to your parents about these scams so they can safeguard themselves.
The Federal Trade Commission has issued guidelines for avoiding scams. Pass these along to your parents, or anyone else, for that matter. Here are some highlights from the FTC’s tips:
Hang up on robocalls and don’t press any numbers.
Know who you’re buying from. Online sellers may claim to have in-demand products in stock when they actually don’t.
Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know.
Do your homework before making donations. If someone wants donations by cash, gift card or wiring money, don’t do it.
4. Keep them busy
Older Americans face special challenges when they remain at home.
“The inactivity that can come with being confined to the home can cause declines in physical health and in physical abilities,” Brown said. “Older adults are also at greater risk of developing depression in social isolation, and their elevated risk for bad outcomes from this virus can cause higher levels of anxiety and lead to sleep difficulties.”
If your parents are feeling lonely or bored, remind them of things they can do to stimulate their minds and occupy their time. Encourage them to read a book, play a board game, do a puzzle or even go for a walk — as long as they’re keeping their distance from others.
Additionally, religious groups across the country are moving their services online, and studios have brought movies in the theater to on-demand platforms for home viewing.
Most importantly, ensure your parents are taking the pandemic seriously. Stress to them the importance of social distancing.